The Sweetest Thing Read online

Page 13

  Author: Jill Shalvis

  “We are so not talking about this,” Tara said.

  “Ah, don’t be like that,” Chloe said. “Join me in the shallow end of the pool, why don’t you. The water’s warm. Give us the details. Is he as good a kisser as he looks?”

  Ignoring her, Tara shifted her gaze to the window to watch Ford unload the ficus plant from Maddie’s car. He moved with economical grace and ease, lifting the heavy potted plant like it weighed nothing.

  “He’s ever so dreamy,” Chloe said, coming up next to Tara and mimicking her southern accent.

  Tara slid her a look. “Thin ice, Chloe. ”

  Chloe snorted. “Sorry. But I can’t take you seriously with flour all over your face. ”

  Dammit. Tara swiped at her cheeks.

  “Are you going to tell her or what?” Chloe asked Maddie.

  “Tell me what?” Tara asked.

  “The reason for the ficus,” Chloe said. “It was supposed to be a bouquet of balloons, but I’m trying to go green. ”

  Tara looked at Maddie. “Translation?”

  “We want you to quit the diner and make the inn a B&B,” Maddie said, then smiled.

  Tara stared at her. “What?”

  “Yeah,” Chloe said. “You cook like an angel but you make next to nothing at the diner, which is so unfair for how hard you work. ”

  “That ‘next to nothing’ has kept us in food for six months,” Tara said. “I can’t just quit. We like to eat. ”

  “Well maybe you can’t quit yet,” Maddie said. “But hopefully, once we open, you could. You hate working nights, so we figured you could work here instead, making big breakfasts for the guests. It would change everything. As a bed and breakfast, we’d attract more attention, and…”

  “And you think that will make me want to stay,” Tara said softly, “if I’m working for myself. ”

  “Us,” Chloe said. “You’d be working for us. ”

  Tara raised a brow. “Says the girl who always has one foot out the door. ”

  “Yes, but my foot comes back every time,” Chloe pointed out. “And also, I’m not a girl. One of these days you’re going to open your eyes and realize I’ve grown up. ”

  “I’ll believe that the day Sawyer stops bringing you home from whatever misadventure you’ve gotten into. ”

  “One time!” Chloe huffed.

  “Actually three times,” Maddie corrected, then shrugged when Chloe gave her a hard stare before turning back to Tara. “But this is about you. ”

  “Yeah,” Chloe said. “Stop sidetracking, or I’ll ask you about Ford and his amazing ass again. By the way, were you going to stir him up and fry him next?”

  “Oh my God, please stop talking about flour, tonsils, and especially Ford’s amazing ass!” Tara said—okay, yelled—just as Ford—naturally—walked back into the kitchen.

  In the thundering silence, he met her gaze. She did her best to look cool. Not easy with flour all over her.

  “Awkward silence alert,” Chloe said. “Maybe you two should just go back to—” she waved her arms, “whatever it was you were doing. ”

  Tara sent Chloe a long look.

  “Right,” Chloe said, smacking her own forehead. “Stop talking. You said stop talking. ”

  “Okay,” Maddie said brightly, grabbing Chloe. “We’d love to stay, but we can’t. ”

  “Yes, we have to go,” Chloe agreed, nonchalantly nudging the string of condoms with one finger toward Tara before Maddie yanked her to the door.

  And then, finally, they were gone.

  Tara let out a breath and turned to the sink, filling a glass of water for herself. She needed a minute.

  Or a hundred.

  She drank and tried to unscramble her brain cells.

  Not Ford. He was leaning on the same counter that he’d pressed her against, looking relaxed and calm and very sure of himself as he eyed the string of condoms lying incongruously on the counter in front of her.

  She looked at them too, and suddenly the temperature in the room shot up.

  So did her body’s temperature. “Ignore those,” she told him.

  Ford slid her a look that ratcheted the tension up even more. “Can you?”

  Lord knew, she was trying. Outside the night was gorgeous, and inside there was this man, also gorgeous. She shook her head and closed her eyes. “How is it that we still feel the pull?”

  Ford stepped into her, letting her feel exactly how much he still felt it.

  “I mean, it shouldn’t still be here,” Tara whispered against his throat as his arms came around her. “I shouldn’t…”

  Ache for you…

  “Some things just are,” he said softly against her hair. “Day turns to night. The ocean tide drifts in and out. And I want you, Tara. Damn you, but I do. I always have. ”

  Chapter 8

  “Remember, a closed mouth can’t attract a foot. ”


  Tara wanted Ford, too. More than she’d ever wanted anyone. The wanting was in the air around them. It was in his eyes and beating in time with her pounding heart. Maybe she couldn’t have her happy ending with him, but surely she could have this.

  Ford’s mouth left hers to skim along her jaw to her ear. His hands were equally busy, molding her body through the thin, flowing cotton of her sundress. “Say it,” he murmured, flicking her earlobe with his tongue.

  Tara clutched at him. “I want you too. ” So much. Too much. “Should we—”

  “Yes,” he said.

  She stared up at him. “You don’t even know what I was going to say. ”

  “Yes to anything. ”

  “Are you crazy? You can’t give me that kind of power. What if I wanted to tie you up and—”

  “Still yes,” he said and dipped his head to kiss his way down her throat.

  She let out a low laugh and slid her hands up his arms, humming in pleasure at the feel of his biceps, hard beneath her fingers.

  Nudging her dress off her shoulder, he continued to nibble on her. “You taste good, Tara. So damn good. You always did. ”

  He was at her collarbone now, and her brain cells were shutting down one at a time, making it a struggle to think. “What if this makes things worse?”

  His soft laugh huffed against her skin. “You’ve barely spoken to me the entire six months you’ve been in town. How can it get worse?”

  Good point. “But—”

  “Tara. ” His fingers were on the zipper low on her back. “Stop thinking. ”

  Right. Good idea. “Stopping thinking right now. ” She paused. “So we’re going to…”

  “Yes. ” Ford had been very intent on her zipper but now he lifted his head, and his eyes looked both amused and aroused. “On one condition. ”

  “Wait—” Tara shook her head, which was ineffective at clearing the haze of lust. “What? You don’t get to have conditions. ”

  “Just one. ”

  She thought about pushing him away, but then she’d be left in this… this state. “What? What is it?”

  “You can’t go back to ignoring me. ”

  “I don’t—”

  He put a finger on her lips to hold in the pretty lie. “Yes or no, Tara. ”

  Dammit. “Yes. ”

  “Yes what?”

  She gaped at him. “You want me to repeat it like an oath?”

  “Yes,” he said very seriously.

  Tara stared at him, into his stubborn green eyes. He stared right back. “Fine,” she expelled, caving like a cheap suitcase. “I won’t go back to ignoring you. Which was never about you, by the way. ”

  Ford arched a brow and she rolled her eyes. “Okay, maybe a little. But it wasn’t your fault, Ford. I want you to know that. Really. It was me, and my own… issues. ”

  “You about over those issues?” he asked as he slid his hands down her back to cup her b